We probably all grind our teeth from time to time. As long as it occurs occasionally, it doesn’t do much harm. However, around 10% of people are regularly grinding their teeth at night.
I was one of them. Every morning I would wake up feeling that my mouth and jaw muscles were tired. However, I wasn’t aware that this was caused by grinding my teeth until my partner started to complain about loud cracking noises at night. At my next visit to the dentist, it became clear that my teeth were showing already some significant wear patterns.
Regular grinding can damage your teeth and lead to other oral health problems. Here is how bad it can be for your teeth and what you can do about it.
What is tooth grinding, and what is the difference between grinding and clenching?
Teeth grinding or gnashing is when you unconsciously press your upper teeth against the lower teeth and move them back and forth. Teeth clenching is when you’re just gritting your teeth together. Teeth grinding or clenching is also known as Bruxism.
Either habit can occur while you’re awake or asleep. But typically teeth grinding happens at night when you’re sleeping. And that’s why it is more concerning because that’s when you develop higher forces and do it for prolonged periods.
Why do people grind their teeth?
Since teeth grinding is caused by muscle tension, it is much more likely to occur when you’re suffering from high stress or anxiety. Since grinding is an involuntary reflex, you tend to do it when you’re not in a state of consciousness about moving your jaws – usually during sleep or intense concentration.
Although stress is the most common cause of teeth grinding, it is also more likely to occur if you have an abnormal bite or crooked or missing teeth. Malocclusion or missing teeth make it difficult for your jaw to find a comfortable resting position. Grinding, therefore, occurs when your jaw moves to find a more comfortable resting position.
How can you tell if you grind your teeth at night?
Although you don’t consciously know that you’re grinding your teeth during sleep, the following signs may indicate that you are actually grinding at night.
Waking up with headaches
Teeth grinding can put a lot of strain on the muscles in your jaw. These muscles are mainly located on the side of your head, near your temples. The strain on these muscles can cause headaches shortly after waking up, which fade slowly during the day. If you regularly suffer from these headaches, it can be caused by gnashing your teeth at night.
Making loud cracking noises at night
The sound you make while grinding your teeth can often be loud enough for people around you to hear. If your partner complains about cracking or clicking noises during sleep, this could be a sign of teeth grinding.
You notice wear on your teeth
When you grind your teeth, they gradually wear out. So if you see that your teeth become shorter or less sharp on the edges, it could be that the teeth grinding is the cause of this change. A dentist can quickly tell if you are grinding your teeth by watching for this type of wear.
Why is teeth grinding so bad for your teeth?
Chronic long-term teeth grinding can damage your teeth in several ways. On a cosmetic level, teeth grinding can gradually wear your teeth out, resulting in shorter and less sharp teeth.
In terms of oral health, chronic grinding causes damage to the surface of the teeth, weakening of the teeth, and cracks. It can even lead to bone loss where you could eventually lose teeth. The reason is that you put high pressure on the top of your teeth while grinding. This pressure will transmit into the bone so that the teeth start losing the support of the bone.
Also, grinding or clenching of your teeth can throw your jaw joints, also known as TMJ, out of equilibrium causing to muscle spasms and headaches.
Another long-term effect of teeth grinding during sleep is its impact on your mental health. Waking up regularly with headaches can be incredibly stressful and make the challenges at work and at home even more stressful than usual.
Since people who grind their teeth at night are more likely to suffer from stress anyway, painful headaches most mornings can only increase that stress.
How can you treat teeth grinding?
Since teeth grinding is often caused by stress, figuring out how to cope with stress can significantly contribute to reducing the amount of grinding you do at night.
The question of how to relieve stress is a complex topic, but reducing stressors will almost always help. For example, minimize the intake of caffeine and avoid smoking, especially close to bedtime.
Mindfulness can also be very beneficial to reduce teeth grinding. Practicing mindfulness helps you to manage and lower stress. It can also raise awareness of the tension you naturally carry in your jaw. People who grind their teeth at night are likely to have tension in their jaws even when they are awake. If you are aware of this tension, you can consciously try to relax the muscles in your jaw when you are awake. This may reduce the likelihood of grinding your teeth at night.
Magnesium supplements can also support to reduce tooth grinding. Magnesium helps to quickly control the twitch muscles. It is sometimes used as part of a broader treatment for Parkinson’s disease for exactly this reason. A combination of stress relief and daily intake of magnesium supplements may be enough to prevent teeth grinding at night.
A mouthguard helps to stop grinding and protects your teeth
If you are more persistent in grinding your teeth, a mouthguard prescribed by your dentist and worn at night may be the best solution to stop teeth grinding.
Mouthguards are made of acrylic and are thin enough to be worn at night without restricting sleep. It works by keeping the teeth in their most natural resting position, thus reducing the reflexive urge to grind teeth. A mouthguard also acts as a shock absorber to ensure that teeth grinding does not harm the teeth.
Another benefit of wearing a mouthguard at night is that it helps alleviate some of the side effects like pain in the jaw joint (TMJ) and improves the quality of life for you.
Finally, teeth grinding is more likely if you have misaligned or missing teeth. Therefore, tooth replacement options such as dental implants or straightening your teeth through orthodontic treatment can also help.
What is the relationship between OSA and teeth grinding?
Apparently, there is also a close connection between obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and teeth grinding. It is estimated that about 25% of people with OSA also suffer from nocturnal teeth grinding.
The relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and teeth grinding is usually associated with an arousal response. The end of an apneic event is typically accompanied by several oral phenomena, such as snoring, gasps, and teeth grinding of teeth. Other factors that could help explain the relationship between sleep apnea and teeth grinding are anxiety and caffeine consumption.
What is OSA?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops during sleep. Symptoms include snoring and daytime sleepiness. Childhood OSA is most common in children 2-6 years of age but can occur at any age.
There are different ways to treat OSA. Some of the most common aids are a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Machine (CPAP), mouth devices, and specially designed pillows.
Another option for treating OSA is dentofacial orthopedics. These orthopedics can open the airways by developing a facial profile to an optimal situation, which is a process of enlarging the airway space. The treatment can be started from the age of 2 and can help your child achieve maximum sleep potential by reducing problems with breathing and swallowing.
Dental treatment approaches for OSA
Other oral treatments include a mandibular repositioning device and a tongue holding device. These devices open your airways by bringing your mandible forward while you sleep. They are made of acrylic and fit into your mouth, similar to a sports mouthguard. Others can fit around the head and chin to also adjust the position of the lower jaw.
It is important to note that dental devices are only effective for mild to moderate sleep apnea. There may also be some possible disturbing side effects when using dental appliances, such as pain, salivation, nausea, and damage or permanent changes in the position of jaw, teeth, and mouth.
It is crucial to consult a dentist specializing in sleep apnea. Also, visit your dentist regularly if you have dental problems and ask your sleep specialist if you are a suitable candidate for OSA.
Teeth grinding in children
About one in four children grinds his teeth. They tend to do so either when their milk teeth appear or when their permanent teeth come in. Most children lose the habit of grinding their teeth after these two rows have become complete.
Most children grind their teeth while sleeping and not when they are awake. The exact cause why children grind their teeth is not known, but it is likely due to misaligned teeth or irregular contact between upper and lower teeth, diseases and other medical conditions (such as nutritional deficiencies, allergies, endocrine disorders). Also, as in adults, it can be caused by psychological factors such as anxiety and stress.
The grinding of milk teeth rarely leads to problems. However, teeth grinding can cause tooth wear, jaw pain, headaches, and TMD. Contact your dentist if your child’s teeth look worn or if your child complains of sensitivity or pain.
How can you help your child stop teeth grinding?
Reduce your child’s stress, especially just before bedtime. Massage and stretching exercises can help to relax the muscles. Also, make sure that your child’s diet contains plenty of water. Dehydration can be associated with teeth grinding. And take your child more frequently to the dentist so that he can monitor your child’s teeth.
Teeth grinding is often a sign of too much stress, and it wears out the surfaces of your teeth, potentially leading to tooth fractures or even tooth loss. Therefore, if you suspect that you are grinding, you should see your dentist and try to minimize the stress in your life.